Court strikes down state law creating new Nashville airport board

All three judges ruled in Nashville’s favor, securing another victory in the city’s multiple lawsuits against the state

By: - October 31, 2023 5:48 pm
The Tennessee General Assembly took control of the Metro Nashville Airport Authority from the city in 2023. (Photo: John Partipilo)

The Tennessee General Assembly took control of the Metro Nashville Airport Authority from the city in 2023. (Photo: John Partipilo)

Metro Nashville’s original board governing the city’s international airport is back in charge after a three-judge panel ruled state lawmakers attempt to create a new one was unconstitutional.

“The new board is vacated, and the old board is reinstated,” the judges wrote in a 34-page unanimous ruling.

Earlier this year, state Republican lawmakers passed several pieces of legislation targeting various Metro Nashville boards and other governing powers in retaliation for Metro Council blocking the 2024 Republican National Convention from coming to the city.

The Democratic-led Metro Council blocked the convention after the lawmakers broke up the city’s only U.S. Congressional district.

The state’s airport board law eliminated an old board of seven members, all appointed by the Nashville mayor. In its place, Gov. Bill Lee, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, House Speaker Cameron Sexton and the Nashville Mayor were each given two appointments on a new board.

Metro Nashville sued to block the law’s implementation, but over the summer, the judges allowed the new board to gain control while they heard the case. Tuesday’s ruling returns power to the Nashville mayor-appointed board.

Court allows state-appointed Nashville airport board to remain in charge as lawsuit precedes

In their ruling, the judges cited the law’s direct targeting of Nashville as the reason that it was unconstitutional.

Nashville’s lawyers have sued over four state laws targeting the city, arguing in each one, including the airport suit, that the various legislation violated Tennessee’s Home Rule Amendment.

The home rule prevents state lawmakers from passing laws singling out a city or county without its permission.

Lawmakers tried to write the bill to apply to other airports, but the judges didn’t buy the argument.

“Defendants… claim the legislature wanted to ensure that MNAA was accountable to more than just the residents of Davidson County,” the judges said in their ruling. “Defendants argue these rationales are present in the language of the act. We disagree.

“These bases do little more than confirm that Metro was singled out, such explanations are unreasonable when the world’s busiest cargo airport is excluded,” referring to the Memphis International Airport.

Now, the conversation shifts to whether the state will appeal the ruling. Earlier this month, Tennessee Attorney General Jonathan Skrmetti declined to file an appeal in another lawsuit it lost to Nashville over a law about votes to approve a new racetrack.

If the state appeals, the appellate court or potentially the Tennessee Supreme Court could temporarily overturn the decision, reinstating power back to the state’s board.

If the Nashville board stays in power, Mayor Freddie O’Connell will need to appoint two new members to the board.

H.G. Realty Hill Realty CEO Jimmy Granbery and businessman Bobby Joslin each gave up their seats on the Nashville mayor-appointed board for seats on the state-controlled one.

“The ruling today reinforces Metro’s right to maintain and control the airport authority,” said Wally Dietz, Metro Nashville’s legal director, in a statement. “Three different three-judge panels have now protected local governments from unconstitutional state overreach.”

The three-judge ruling


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Adam Friedman
Adam Friedman

Adam Friedman is a reporter with the Tennessee Lookout. He has a particular love for data and using numbers to explain all kinds of topics. If you have a story idea, he'd love to hear it. Email him at [email protected] or call him at 615-249-8509.